Breaking through Deadlocks in Life through Faith

Richard with his wife Siew Li (right) and daughter Rachel Zhuang Qingxin, who is now a law enforcement officer. (August 19, 2017)

Richard Tjong
Men Division

My father was one of the key “leaders” of a secret society and was involved in illegal activities such as operating a gambling den, and managing bookies and loan sharks. Since young, I learned all forms of gambling and joined the secret society when I was 12 years old. I was a bully in school, extorting money and picking a fight with those “smarter” students who refused to let me “copy” their homework. I did poorly in school and took five years to complete my secondary education.

When I was enlisted in the National Service, one of my campmates shared Nichiren Buddhism with us, but I was not interested.

I married young and found a sales job in the construction machinery industry. My monthly remuneration was about $5000, but I spent most of my time playing jackpot and soccer betting. Then the construction industries went into recession. As a result, my income suffered, and quarrels became frequent at home. I spent most of my evenings at the coffee shops and got acquainted with a group of punters.

Soon I joined them as a bookie. My greed got the better of me, and I became a bookie for horse racing and soccer betting. I even recruited a few friends to be my partners. We worked only two days per week and were earning about $10,000 per week.

However, all my partners ran away with the money and I ended up in debts. My wife left me, and I was down and out. At the same time, I did not report for my reservist duty and was arrested by the military police. I was supposed to be charged in the military court, but was very fortunate to be given a second chance to join the next batch of reservists.

Overcoming Challenges with Courage and Wisdom

Coincidentally, at the camp, I met the same campmate who shared Nichiren Buddhism with me during my National Service days. I shared my problems with him, and he encouraged me to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

That night I started chanting for the first time. I felt a strong flow of energy running through my whole body, and I shed tears. After one week of chanting, my wife returned home. Then I stopped chanting, and she left again after a week.

I sought guidance and realised that I needed to first take the Buddhist practice seriously and not regard it as a quick fix. I began to participate in discussion meetings and I saw how the members beamed with joy despite having challenges. I learnt that Nichiren Buddhism does not promise a life without problems but rather how one can lead a victorious life through one’s human revolution. I was so inspired. I wanted to achieve a true transformation in my life too. I took on odd jobs and probably seeing how earnest I was at work, my employers were so kind as to sponsor me for night classes. As I upgraded myself, my life became more fulfilling. Eventually, I found a job as a Quality Assurance/ Training Executive with a company in 2004. Today, I am a Senior Operations Manager in the same company.

I met my current wife, Siew Li, in 1988. We got married in March 1990 and enshrined the Gohonzon in the same month.

I continued to actively participate in Soka Gakkai activities and joined the SGS Men Division functions groups such as the Soka Knight group and Ojokai (King Castle) Group. In the next 30 years, through learning the Gosho and Ikeda Sensei’s guidance, I managed to polish my life and overcame many challenges with courage and wisdom including health issues like a stroke and growths in my intestines.

Winning at Work through Earnest Faith

This year was another challenging year due to Covid-19. On May 5, my company was awarded a cleaning contract, for a shopping centre with an office tower, which had to begin on June 1.

I was assigned to manage this project. I needed to recruit two supervisors and 19 cleaners. We would usually need six weeks to prepare for such a project which includes staff recruitment, purchase of cleaning equipment and accessories as well as planning the cleaning schedules, but I was given only three weeks.

Richard (rightmost) with his colleagues.

I relied on the strategy of the Lotus Sutra, praying for a smooth project start-up. Every morning, I would chant from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. When the Heightened Alert measures kicked in from May 16 to June 13, staff recruitment was made even more challenging. Nevertheless, I determined that I would not be defeated but instead rise up to the challenges with an even stronger resolve. Hence, I started waking up earlier at 3 a.m. so that I could chant more daimoku.

With protection from the protective functions of the universe, I managed to settle most outstanding issues by May 28 except the shortage of nine cleaners. With absolute conviction in the Gohonzon, I continued chanting. On May 30, I received a call from a former colleague that he had 10 people looking for a cleaning job. I immediately interviewed them and all of them agreed to start work on June 1.

Nevertheless, my joy was short-lived. Little did I expect that when I reached the site on June 1, the 10 cleaners that I interviewed on Sunday did not report for work! In the following week, I faced pressure from the owner and my management.

Though things took a dramatic turn, I did not waver in faith, holding this Gosho passage close to my heart, “Although I and my disciples may encounter various difficulties, if we do not harbour doubts in our hearts, we will as a matter of course attain Buddhahood. Do not have doubts simply because heaven does not lend you protection. Do not be discouraged because you do not enjoy an easy and secure existence in this life. This is what I have taught my disciples morning and evening, and yet they begin to harbour doubts and abandon their faith. Foolish men are likely to forget the promises they have made when the crucial moment comes.” (WND-1, p. 283) I was convinced that the challenges I faced had profound significance and would allow me to clinch greater victory in the end.

Richard (second person from left in the third row) continues to participate actively in the discussion meeting even when Soka Gakkai activities moved online. (at the October 2021 online discussion meeting of Boon Lay Chapter District 5)

I strengthened my resolve through determined prayers and managed to get the owner’s understanding to have one more week to resolve the issue. At the same time, l also had the support of the current team to come in one hour earlier to clean the site, tapping on my ingenuity to settle the unforeseen circumstances.

I knew I had to be utterly serious in order to win in my situation. I made it a point to be the first to reach the site and the last to leave. I would get home about 11 p.m., take my shower, do my evening gongyo, and sleep at midnight. I would then wake up again at 3 a.m. to chant till 5.30 a.m. and reach the site by 6.30 a.m.. I barely slept 3 hours each day.

However, as if responding to my earnest struggle, things started to change within a week. I managed to recruit all the cleaners required. Furthermore, the Senior Vice President of the shopping mall sent an email to my company to acknowledge the improvement in the cleanliness of the mall.

Ikeda Sensei said, “The important thing is to always keep our mind focused on moving forward. The challenge of triumphing over obstacles will itself definitely become the cause for substantially expanding our state of life. If we make active efforts to grapple with our problems, we can definitely change inside and transform our karma.

“In that sense, any time when we become stuck is really an opportunity for us to realise victory. And ‘ever- stronger faith’ is what gives us the power to break through such deadlocks.”

I would not be who I am today if I had not embraced Nichiren Buddhism and have Sensei as my mentor. As Sensei teaches, there is no retirement in faith; even as an advisor now, I am determined to continue strengthening my faith and fostering many capable successors for kosen-rufu, always living for the lofty mission of kosen-rufu.

(Adapted from Dec 2021 issue of Creative Life)